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Tower bridge (part one)
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Tower bridge is one of London's best-known landmarks and, with its unique design, is instantly recognized throughout the world. With its mock-medieval look, many visitors are fooled into thinking it is much older than it is, but inside its Gothic granite exterior is a steel frame, which is a masterpiece of Victorian engineering.

For much of the nineteenth century there had been discussions about the need for new river crossings downstream of London Bridge, partly to take pressure off London Bridge, which was becoming very congested, but also to cater for the needs of a growing population to the east of the City, whose only means of crossing the river was by ferry or a very long detour. Although it was generally agreed that a new bridge was needed, there was still opposition from vested interests, mainly from those who feared that access for ships would be impeded and trade would suffer. Various committees discussed the project and negotiations continued for many years over such matters as whether it should be a high-level or low-level bridge, how it would be financed and, even as late as 1878, whether it should be a toll bridge or not.The last question was almost redundant, as plans were already in hand to free the rest of London's bridges from toll.Those working in the dock and wharf trades, however, continued to be opposed to a bridge, as they felt it would affect their livelihood; they preferred a tunnel, which would not interfere with the operations of the Port of London.


Tower bridge (part one)

Detail of an 1862 proposal from Peter William Barlow and Robert Richardson for a suspension bridge on the site of Tower Bridge. Somewhat incongruously, the approaches are based on the Leaning Tower of Pisa.



The problem was that the bridge would have to allow tall ships into the busy Upper Pool, and finding a solution was no easy matter. A low-level bridge would interfere with the river traffic, but a high-level bridge would need steep approaches, which would be difficult for vehicles. The earliest proposal, put forward in 1824 by Samuel Brown, was for a suspension bridge, but nothing happened for another fifty years. When the scheme was seriously discussed in the 1870s, many weird and wonderful plans were put forward. One was for a raised platform running on rails in the riverbed; another involved taking carriages up in hydraulic lifts to cross by a high-level bridge; the most interesting one was a low-level'duplex'bridge that split into two carriageways in the middle, each with a swing-bridge, so traffic could switch from one to the other when ships needed to pass through it. Others proposed a tunnel or ferry, and in 1878 Sir Joseph Bazalgette put forward several designs for a high-level bridge, as well as proposals for tunnels at Rotherhithe and Blackwall, and a free ferry at Woolwich. His bridge designs were rejected as they did not allow enough headroom, and only the Woolwich ferry was in operation during his lifetime.


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